Orissa is a thickly tribal inhabited state, consisting of
sixty-two tribes living in different parts of the state - in the
highlands, forests, valleys and in the foot hills. They make their own
traditional ethnic cottage and live in it. In order to proclaim the
self-identity intra group wise, socially and culturally different tribes
live in different places.
Each tribal community has separate mode of living and they differ significantly in their dress, ornaments, skill in building houses, and moreover in their way of life. This difference in their life is clearly decernable from their material culture, art objects from the paintings and drawings and also from the size and shapes of different objects that they use. To the tribals, dress is a cultural need and it is also a part of their tradition.
The Tribal Dress up
Among the tribals the use of dress is very significant and worthwhile. The tribals do not use dress just merely to hide their nakedness rather it reflects the racial feeling and their cultural identity. The tribals use separate costumes at the time of festivals and ceremonies.
In a specific tribe the dresses from birth to old age has immense variety. The costumes of the male members of the tribe and the females are also different. It is a fact that the female community pays more attention in covering their body. In some tribal communities the women folk want their male partners to be dressed elegantly and impressively.
A tribal woman also wears a variety of dresses from her birth to death corresponding to different stages of her life. For instance, a 'Dhangedi' (a maiden) adorns fine clothes to attract the attention of others while the 'Gurumai', the priestess wears formal clothes to worship the goddess for the betterment of her community. Dress also helps them in many adversities and also helps to propitiate gods and goddesses who safeguard them against the malevolent atrocities of the ghosts, spirits, etc.
Dressing According To Individual Position
The tribals also use dress according to the position of individual in the society like the clan's head, the priest, and the revenue collector etc. The dress that they use at the time of marriage, birth, death, worship etc. are also different.
They use dresses keeping in view the occasion, age, sex and other factors. For example, the priest does not use the normal dress at the time of worship. And again at the time of dancing they dress in a very attractive manner. The dancing costume has also special significance. They also wear dresses in different styles. While dressing they also keep in their mind the surroundings. They also think of their convenience and inconvenience while dressing themselves for an occasion.
Especially they do not like to dress very pompously at the time of any work. But when they go for shopping to the near by market place or to visit any fair or festival they dress themselves quite exuberantly and exquisitely.
The Variance In Attires
Different tribal communities use different kind of dresses, differing in their colour and size. Their dresses are designed keeping in view their necessity and their surrounding. The socio-cultural and the religious views of the tribals slightly contribute for the variety in their dresses. There are several tribes like the 'Bondo' and 'Gadaba' who weave their own clothes. While the other tribes purchase their dress from another community or the neighbouring 'Damas' or 'Panas'.
The tribal dress and ornaments mostly belong to the non-tribal group and there are very few tribal artisans. The non-tribal artisans like the weavers they live adjacent to the tribal villages. These people manufacture the costumes of a specific tribe and sell them in the weekly village market.
Sometimes these weavers are being paid in cash or in kind in the form of agricultural products. The tribal costumes are very simple and it provides immense comfort to the wearer. Generally, in the 'Kandha' community the "Dongria Kandha", the "Kutia Kandha" and the "Desia Kandha", "Lanjia Saora" and the 'Santhals' depend on other communities for their clothes.
Lanjia Saora and some other tribal community make threads by themselves and give it to the Damas to weave for them. And again they purchase that cloth from the Damas in cash or kind. While the Bondo and the Didayi, the Gadabas weave their own clothes though the Dangrias purchase the cloth from the neighbouring Damas. They knit fine needlework on it and use it.
The Likeness Of Apparel
There is a little similarity among the tribals in their dress those who live in a specific area. The 'Koyas', the 'Halabs' and the 'Gandias' are inhabitants of the same districts. Though it seems that they have some kind of similarity in their costume but in reality they differ from each other. The Kandhas live in a specific area, like the Kutia Kandha and the Dongria Kandha both the communities live in two different sides of the same hill.
But as far as dress is concerned they differ significantly. Similarly, the 'Mundas' and the Santhals though they live as neighbours they differ in their dress and culture. The 'Juangs' and the 'Bhuyan' highlander live in close proximity but they differ in their dress. The 'Kisans' and the Gonds though live in the same belt they have also difference in their dress. At times there are similarity of the dress in colour, design and pattern but they differ in their cultural and social life as well as in their ritual and rites.
Art - The Essence Of Tribal Life
The artistic nature of the tribals is very innate in their heart and mind. To them the artistic and aesthetic essence is to make life more enjoyable and to fulfill the cultural, social and religious needs. Even there are some tribes they envisage a better future with the help of art and craft, for the tribals art objects and the skill of the artist is a fit medium to propitiate their deities, gods and goddesses.
The tribal art is not the contemporary one. It has the heraldry of a hoary past. It was the art, which once widely acclaimed in the midst of the forest, the mountains, and in the springs. Art is the base and basis of the tribal life. It is the economic, social and cultural reflection of the tribal life. Hence art is the yardstick by which they measure their success.
A Beautiful Blend Of Art
The material culture is also part of their artistic life. Even their costume and dress materials have the touch of artistic workmanship. It is also reflection of the art, which had been passed onto them from generation to generation. That art has the accumulated knowledge of ages, which has assimilated in their social tradition. It is a medium to express their inner quest. Dress has multifarious significance in their social life. At the surface level one can observe that they use dress only to avoid the nakedness, or to protect from cold, rain and sunshine. But in fact, the tribal costume exhibits the uniqueness of the specific community, their self-identity.
The possession of the right kind of dress is a matter of pride and a great source of enthusiasm. The "Ringa" of the Bondos and the embroidered shawl of the Dangarias have a special social and cultural significance. The Dangria shawl has a direct link with the marital relationship and the success of their conjugal life depends upon it. The dance costume of the Lanjia Saoras as well as their general dress is a fine testimony of their rich cultural heritage. At the time of dancing from the dress of the clan's head "Gamango" they get the trace of the regal pride and heroism.
The Discovery & Growth
The origin, history and development of tribal textile commensurates with the general history of man's progress from primitive barbarism to civilization. The state of nakedness was disgusting, to avoid that the tribals used leaves as their dress. This was used in a crude form. Then they used bark of the tree as their dress. This gave them much discomfort, so they used some bark to avoid this inconvenience.
It was also not so soothing; hence, they started extracting fibres from the barks and subsequently converted it into thread. Gradually, they came to know more about fibre, thread etc. and then began the weaving of clothes. Later on, they also dyed the fibres to make it beautiful. They also started using turmeric to colour the threads. There are also several trees in the forest that excrete colour in their bark and the tribals use the bark of these trees to dye the thread.
Firstly, they boiled the bark and soaked fibres in it. That way they got various coloured threads and wove according to their requirement. Sometimes instead of making the coloured threads themselves, they purchased them from the market and then weaved them. Some tribes like to wear clothes of a single colour, while others like to use multi-colour clothes and at times they knitted fine embroidery work on it and made it fit for their use. Through the dress they reflected their traditional culture, artistic skillfulness and thoughts, for which their cultural life flourish on the base of dress. It gave a special lustre to their community life and differentiated one tribe from the other.
Weaving Of A Cloth
To weave clothes they used their own indigenous technology. They used bamboo and other trees to get the fibre. They installed the wooden loom in front of their house or in the backyard and some of them also install it in the narrow path of the village. They weaved during their leisure time. Both men and women weave. In some communities only women weave. The women weave various clothes for them as well as for the male members of their family.
Preservation Of The Ancient Cultural Heritage
In the olden times the tribals wove their clothes from their loom. But these days, after they came in contact with the civilized world, they purchase their clothes from the market, resulting in the decay of their culture. Now they do not have the slightest inclination to wear old-fashioned clothes and have even expressed their hesitation to use their traditional cloth.
After the advent of the industrial textile culture, they have already forgotten about their looms. In the changing scenario they no more boast of their tradition and culture. In some of the tribal communities the dress culture is in a complete state of extinction. And in some other communities it is in a doormant state or on the way to decay.
In the Kutia Kandha tribe it has almost decayed. In the Didayi community to find a cloth woven in their own fashion has become a difficult affair. Among the Bondo community the alien cultural assimilation is so strong that, forgetting their own traditional dress they have started wearing the dresses of the non-tribals especially the print sarees manufactured by textile industries. Among the Santhals the condition is the same as in the other communities. Though the elderly members of the community wish to preserve their tradition, the younger generation abhors the idea.
The young ones of the community are not at all worried about the depletion of their culture and the disintegration of their social and community life, to which the elder members express their dissatisfaction. The intrusion of the alien cultures shuns them. Neither are they capable of restricting it, nor can they fully assimilate it. They are caught in a dilemma, which is unprecedented in their racial history.
It is a high time to preserve and revive their culture which is gradually decaying, whole-hearted efforts need to be made by adopting various measures and techniques to preserve and revive it, or else a great cultural tradition will be buried in the sandy-shores of time.